It’s hard to believe, but 15 years have passed since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy landed in theaters. And the three-part fantasy not only sent fans Tolkien-mad between 2001 and 2003 and made stars of its ensemble cast, but it earned multiple Oscars and grossed almost $3 billion worldwide. But though some of its actors are sadly no longer with us – including Saruman’s Christopher Lee – the series’ remaining stars have gone on to do some incredible and interesting things…
20. John Noble (Denethor)
John Noble was first introduced in The Return of the King, and he left a moving impression as Denethor, Gondor’s besieged warden. Indeed, the part left its mark on the Australian thespian himself, too; as he admitted on the film’s official website, the role required “every skill an actor can have.” Since his days in Middle Earth, meanwhile, Noble has portrayed Walter Bishop in Fringe and Morland Holmes in Elementary.
19. David Wenham (Faramir)
He’s been working in show business since 1987, but David Wenham was still unfamiliar to film fans before the new millennium. However, his role as Faramir in The Two Towers changed all that, and he subsequently gained roles in the high-profile likes of 300 and Van Helsing. In 2017, moreover, he will even appear alongside LotR co-star Orlando Bloom in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film.
18. Brad Dourif (Grima Wormtongue)
Brad Dourif is perhaps best known for voicing Child’s Play’s evil doll Chucky, but he’s played several other memorably creepy characters throughout his career. His role as the corrupted Grima Wormtongue in LotR, for example, stands out for many as his definitive performance. The star has worked steadily in the intervening years, too, and he will reprise Chucky for the seventh time in 2017.
17. Bernard Hill (King Theoden)
Despite being gripped by the ring’s all-consuming power at the start of the The Two Towers, King Theoden eventually became one of the series’ most hardened heroes. And certainly, the character’s transformation was only possible due to the talents of Bernard Hill – the actor who fleshed out the role in the second and final parts of the trilogy. Following the series’ success, meanwhile, Hill continued playing supporting roles, including a turn in the BBC series Wolf Hall.
16. Andy Serkis (Gollum)
Although slated solely to provide slimy hobbit Gollum’s voice, Andy Serkis’ physical audition left a big impression on director Peter Jackson. As a result, the actor played the character through motion capture technology and ushered in a new age of digitally enhanced acting in the process. Now Serkis is famed for his mo-cap roles and has fleshed out further CGI creations in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and King Kong.
15. Miranda Otto (Eowyn)
LotR features many strong male warriors, but Miranda Otto’s Eowyn proved that women can fight just as hard as boys. In fact, her cry of “I am no man” before slaying the Witch King remains one of the series’ best lines. Years later, in fact, Otto is still owning empowering roles; she’ll also have a pivotal part in Fox’s upcoming 24: Legacy.
14. Karl Urban (Eomer)
Karl Urban first gained prominence as Theoden’s nephew Eomer but has since put his name to a variety of reputable franchises. Most notably, the New Zealand actor played “Bones” McCoy in the 2009 reboot of Star Trek, reprising the part for 2016’s Beyond. In addition, he played the titular masked lawmaker in the 2012 comic adaptation Dredd.
13. Hugo Weaving (Elrond)
Despite playing The Matrix’s fearsome Agent Smith two years earlier, Hugo Weaving fit Fellowship’s sagely Elrond like a glove. And after LotR’s global success, Weaving continued to veer between heroic and villainous parts in the likes of V for Vendetta and Captain America. Nevertheless, he returned to the kindly Lord of Rivendell for Jackson’s subsequent The Hobbit trilogy.
12. Liv Tyler (Arwen)
Prior to LotR, Liv Tyler primarily played a variety of love interest roles in the likes of Armageddon and Stealing Beauty. However, throughout the fantasy series the actress got to show a tougher side as the tenacious elfen heroine Arwen. And following this breakout role, Tyler has continued to dabble in acting as well as activism. Currently, she stars in HBO’s The Leftovers.
11. Cate Blanchett (Galadriel)
Since playing the royal elf Galadriel, Cate Blanchett has gone on to become one of the world’s most respected actresses. Indeed, her roles in The Aviator and Blue Jasmine earned her Oscar wins, and she’s received a multitude of BAFTAs and Golden Globes to boot. But despite her acclaim, Blanchett never forgot her roots and returned as Galadriel in the Hobbit trilogy.
10. Ian Holm (Bilbo Baggins)
Although Martin Freeman had a leading role as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, fans first became accustomed to the character through Ian Holm’s portrayal in Fellowship. Yet while the part brought the esteemed actor new recognition, Holm has since remained relatively quiet. In fact to date, his last film appearance was as Baggins in 2014’s Battle of the Five Armies.
9. Sean Bean (Boromir)
Poor Sean Bean hasn’t had a lot of luck when it comes to staying alive in films, but he admitted his passing in Fellowship in particular meant a lot to him. “The death of Boromir was a memorable one for me,” he told The Huffington Post in 2014. “It was a very long, heroic death. That was my favorite one.” And years later, Bean would kick the bucket again in fellow fantasy epic Game of Thrones.
8. John Rhys-Davies (Gimli)
Most fans know John Rhys-Davies as Gimli, but the star actually had two major roles in the trilogy. Besides playing the short-tempered dwarf, in fact, Rhys-Davies also voiced the ent Treebeard who befriends Merry and Pippin in Two Towers. And following his stint in LotR, the actor returned to fantasy as an elven king in MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles.
7. Billy Boyd (Peregrin Took)
The youngest of the four hobbits to make their way to Mordor, Peregrin Took was memorably played by Billy Boyd. And after the film’s release, the Scottish actor continued to act while additionally branching out into music. Indeed, he even penned and performed the song “Last Goodbye” for The Hobbit’s finale, Battle of the Five Armies.
6. Dominic Monaghan (Merry)
It’s probably safe to say that Dominic Monaghan enjoyed his time playing hobbit Merry in LotR. Well, as the actor actually persuaded his co-stars to have the Elvish word for “nine” tattooed on their bodies out of respect to the series, that’s the impression that we get. Now Monaghan is best known for his role as Charlie in Lost; in addition, he currently hosts the BBC America nature series Wild Things.
5. Orlando Bloom (Legolas)
With only one previous film credit to his name, Orlando Bloom was one of LotR’s least recognizable faces. His role as Legolas, however, shot him to international superstardom, and playing Will Turner in 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean further cemented his fame. The English actor hasn’t entirely left Middle Earth behind since, though, cropping up as he did in 2013’s Desolation of Smaug. Furthermore, in 2017 he’s set to reprise Turner in Pirates sequel Dead Men Tell No Tales.
4. Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee)
Sean Astin was already a star thanks to the likes of The Goonies and Rudy, but he reached a new level of fame with his role as Frodo’s loyal friend Samwise Gamgee. Since then, meanwhile, Astin has enjoyed a variety of roles both on and off the screen, even working as a campaign manager for aspiring Democratic congressman Dan Adler in 2011. A recently snagged role in Stranger Things, however, will see him return to our TVs in 2017.
3. Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn)
Viggo Mortensen is an actor with many strings to his bow, but he branched out into exciting new fields after the fantasy trilogy. Following his stint as Aragorn, for example, the actor launched his own publishing house Perceval Press. Plus, he’s released various works of poetry, painting and music, too. Nonetheless, Mortensen remains hooked on acting and recently won a Satellite Award for his role in 2016’s Captain Fantastic.
2. Ian McKellen (Gandalf)
It’s difficult to imagine now, but Ian McKellen had been working in theater since the ’60s prior to LotR. After winning the role of Gandalf from Sean Connery, however, McKellen became internationally recognized as one of the world’s finest thespians. And besides his innumerable screen credits – including a return to the Shire with The Hobbit – McKellen has also used his fame to promote gay and civil rights.
1. Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins)
Undoubtedly the star of the show, Elijah Wood proved the perfect casting for series protagonist Frodo Baggins. But although primed for a blockbuster career following the films’ success, Wood instead pursued more daring projects, such as a turn as a cannibal in 2005’s Sin City. Currently, you can catch Wood in a starring role in BBC America’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency; he may also be at work running his music label Simian Records.